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United just made it more difficult to claim a travel voucher for certain flights

Aug. 12, 2020
3 min read
United just made it more difficult to claim a travel voucher for certain flights
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Like many carriers around the world, United Airlines is currently offering customers extra flexibility when booking flights for future travel. As it's been doing since March, United will waive all change fees for flights booked through the end of this month, for all future travel dates. While that sounds great on the surface, you'll lose any residual value if you move to a lower-cost flight, as I explain in this earlier post.

Fortunately, the airline has been offering a workaround, which has given me (and likely many others) the confidence to book future travel. To avoid losing value when moving to a cheaper flight, customers have been able to request that the full value of the original flight be applied to an Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC). For many itineraries, it was even possible to make the request online.

Sadly, that's no longer the case. As of this month, United has removed the option to cash out to an ETC from its website. Fortunately, it's still possible to request an ETC by speaking with a reservations agent at 1-800-864-8331. The agent will likely offer to keep the remaining value within your original ticket, but if you explain that you'd prefer an ETC, the airline has confirmed that's still an option.

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ETCs can only be used to book United and United Express flights. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Note that there are a few advantages to keeping the value of your ticket within the reservation, rather than cashing out to an ETC. First, Future Flight Credits (FFCs), as they're referred to internally, can be used to book partner flights — if you can book a flight on United.com, you can use an FFC to cover it. Second, if you originally booked your ticket through a travel agency, your agent can retain control of that same itinerary — ETCs must be redeemed directly with United. FFCs are also available to reuse immediately, while ETCs could take weeks to issue.

All that said, in most cases, I'd prefer to receive an ETC, unless rebooking for travel in the near future, on a flight that's equally or more expensive than what I'd previously booked.

While you are limited to travel operated by United and United Express, ETCs are valid for 24 months from the date they're issued, while most FFCs must be used for travel within 12 months of the original ticket issue date; FFCs for tickets originally issued between May 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 are valid for 24 months. ETCs can also be combined to book a more expensive ticket, and if you can't travel yourself, you can book a flight for someone else.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
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  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
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